Suppose you are standing in a library, filled with volumes upon volumes of books arranged in rows of shelves — shelves too tall for you to reach the top. The musty old book smell shifts your awareness to the sheer mass of information that surrounds you. If your library visit were taking place around 1450, all these books would have been handwritten by monks. Fast forward a little under 600 years. We have technology in our houses that would put hand-copiers out on the streets looking for another profession.
We are our own publishers and distributors through the web. Since the dawn of the internet, anyone with a connection has an audience. We can watch films, read books, and connect with strangers on other continents from the comfort of our office. As we progress in technological complexity, we have streamlined. Video rental is now handled by mail or automated machines inside grocery stores, or viewers have opted for a streaming service. Record shops have become a novelty reserved for the nostalgic, and it seems bookstores may be going in that direction too.
Barnes and Noble postponed its financial report to the end of this month, which means bad news for the future of the company. The bookseller announced that their Nook e-reader will lose over $260 million dollars this year. Tech writer Laura Owens of GigaOm says, “Unfortunately, the digital side is the side that’s supposed to be doing better.” With more people going online to buy their books, stores have been beefing up their toys and games section. Atmosphere will soon be the only incentive to visit their stores, and you can’t charge customers for atmosphere.
As time goes by, bound books will become more uncommon. It will be much cheaper and more convenient to download a classic onto your device than to wait days for it to come by mail. It will be easier to carry thousands of books in the palm of your hand than to break your back carrying ten. Printing has almost become obsolete.
Or has it?